Paris

Amélie Bertrand, Daisy Temple, 2018, oil on canvas, 86 5⁄8 × 70 3⁄4".

Amélie Bertrand, Daisy Temple, 2018, oil on canvas, 86 5⁄8 × 70 3⁄4".

Amélie Bertrand

Semiose

Amélie Bertrand, Daisy Temple, 2018, oil on canvas, 86 5⁄8 × 70 3⁄4".

“Naked Light,” Amélie Bertrand’s recent exhibition of oil paintings and digital prints, depicted Miami Deco-style architectures in ersatz tropical settings. Works in both mediums featured colorful compositions of stone fountains and porticos, palm trees, ferns, and fruit bowls lit by pink and yellow florescent bulbs. Given the blunt artificiality of these particular scenes, it’s no surprise that Bertrand conceives them on a computer using Photoshop and images sourced from the internet. What was unexpected, however, is how well her paintings—even more than the digital prints—evoke the addictive glow and sleek surfaces of computer monitors and smartphone screens. Using small brushes and hundreds of hand-cut stencils, Bertrand creates an immaculately flat layer of paint across the canvas. Like jigsaw-puzzle pieces, her painted forms abut perfectly, with no overlap. But a certain precariousness underlies this flawless finish, and Bertrand’s paintings sometimes seem as though they might shatter and fall apart, like low-res JPEG or GIF files that dissolve into pixels at close range.

Beneath their slick veneer, Bertrand’s painted worlds are rife with mind-bending illusions of transparency, volume, and space. Daisy Temple (all works cited, 2018), the largest painting on view, presented a confusing indoor/outdoor scene in which architecture and nature coexist in impossible ways. On the right side of the composition, the shadow of a palm tree falls against the wall and roof of a stone temple. Bertrand paints details of the masonry so that they appear to be visible “through” the tree’s shadow and then undermines this illusion by continuing the shape of the palm’s trunk and fronds across what appears to be the sky—a background painted in sunset shades of blue, pink, orange, and yellow. Though her paint application is utterly even, Bertrand depicts scenes that seem to have more than just three dimensions. Whether boxing in would-be exteriors with surprising corners and low ceilings or painting objects so that they appear solid in some areas and translucent in others, Bertrand consistently turns our understanding of materiality and perspective upside down and inside out. Her blatantly paradoxical representations of distance and materiality ensure that her virtual realms remain superficially delectable but intellectually impenetrable. 

Whether intentionally or not, the inclusion of three large-scale digital prints in this exhibition underscored just how well Bertrand’s paintings evoke the cyber sphere. While the prints featured the same motifs as those seen in her paintings, the overall aesthetic was quite different. Whereas the painted scenes appeared luminous, crisp, and enticing (even with their impossible distortions), the imagery in the digital prints, set behind glass in shadow box–style frames, was dim, distant, and sometimes pixelated and blurry. The imperfections give an interesting hint of texture and nebulous depth to the prints, but ultimately these digital works are less seductive and complex than Bertrand’s painted oeuvre. Though her practice is intimately linked to digital tools and virtual reality, it is only through the work of the hand that she captures the conflicts that characterize our increasingly screen-mediated lives. Bertrand’s paintings represent the freedom and claustrophobia associated with screens, the paradoxical sense of connectedness and alienation we feel when we use them, and the ways in which they’ve changed our understanding of reality.